VanDeMark, Brian 1960-

views updated

VanDeMark, Brian 1960-


Born 1960. Education: University of Texas, B.A., M.A.; University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D.


Home—Kent Island, MD. Office—Department of History, United States Naval Academy, 117 Decatur Rd., Annapolis, MD 21402-5018. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, historian, and educator. United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD, professor of history, 1990—.


Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Robert S. McNamara) In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, Times Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.


A professor of history at the United States Naval Academy, Brian VanDeMark is a writer and historian whose books focus on significant aspects of U.S. wars, including Vietnam and World War II. Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War is an "evenhanded, well-documented account of America's deepening involvement in Vietnam during the critical months" from November, 1964, to July, 1965, when Vietnam became a large-scale war, commented Genevieve Stuttaford in Publishers Weekly. VanDeMark looks carefully at the many conflicting pressures that faced then-President Lyndon Johnson and his cabinet as they decided the course of action to take in Southeast Asia. Based on primary documents, interviews, and memoirs of participants, the book reconstructs the political atmosphere of the time and reconsiders the positions taken by Johnson and his advisors. VanDeMark concludes that Johnson was unable to withstand the influence of several hawkish advisors, who pushed for an escalation of the war. Moreover, Johnson was so dedicated to sustaining his domestic Great Society program that he "approved military moves in Southeast Asia that he sensed (more than understood) were unwise," noted David L. Anderson in the American Historical Review. "The portrait of LBJ here is sympathetic and poignant," remarked Lawrence Freedman, writing in International Affairs. "It describes a man caught in a terrible dilemma without the self-confidence to extract himself with honor."

In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, written by VanDeMark and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, contains McNamara's own version of the events of the Vietnam War. After nearly three decades of refusing to talk about Vietnam, McNamara "examines the failures of judgment and understanding that made that war a political and moral disaster," commented Laurel Graeber in the New York Times. Serving as Secretary of Defense for presidents John F. Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968, McNamara was a major influence in how the war was conducted. In the book, however, McNamara admits that most of the decisions made about Vietnam were wrong, and that he himself bears a heavy burden of responsibility for the military action that left some 58,000 U.S. personnel dead, thousands of others permanently scarred, and an entire geographical region in turmoil. McNamara has long been vilified for his role in the Vietnam War, and critical reaction to In Retrospect demonstrated a similar harshness. "To put it bluntly, McNamara twists the truth, falsely accuses others, and soils the historical record," stated Roger Hilsman, a reviewer in the Political Science Quarterly and a former member of the Kennedy administration. "Read carefully, however, his memoir is less a mea culpa, as advertised, than an often artful sharing of the blame (‘We were wrong’) with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his former colleagues in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations," observed a reviewer in the Wilson Quarterly. In large part, critics generally concluded, as did Charles F. Neu in America, that McNamara's book is "too little too late." Other critics, such as Ole Berthelsen in the Journal of Peace Research, concluded that McNamara "takes his share of the responsibility and he deserves credit for finally having come forth with his account of the events."

Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb is a "biography of a scientific generation," an account of the nine scientists who "built the atom bomb and how each of them grappled with the implications of their awesome creation," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. VanDeMark profiles prominent atomic scientists, including Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and Enrico Fermi. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "a well considered portrait of the scientists who made the atomic bomb and then repented ever after."

Controversy erupted around VanDeMark and Pandora's Keepers in 2003 when he was accused of plagiarism. A three-member investigating committee at the Academy concluded that VanDeMark had indeed engaged in "improper borrowing and inadequate paraphrasing," but that the "borrowing was the result of carelessness and not deliberate," noted Nelson Hernandez in the Washington Post. As a result, VanDeMark lost the tenure he had earned in 1998 and was demoted to assistant professor. The erroneous edition of the book was recalled and VanDeMark made the necessary corrections; he was also allowed to reapply for tenure after six years of probation.



America, May 20, 1995, Charles F. Neu, review of In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, p. 26.

American Historical Review, April, 1993, David L. Anderson, review of Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, p. 607.

American Journal of International Law, July, 1996, Michael J. Glennon, review of In Retrospect, p. 527.

Booklist, April 15, 1995, Mary Carroll, review of In Retrospect, p. 1477; June 1, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb, p. 1738; December 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Pandora's Keepers, p. 641.

Commentary, June, 1995, Gabriel Schoenfeld, review of In Retrospect, p. 52.

Foreign Policy, fall, 1995, Thomas L. Hughes, review of In Retrospect, p. 154.

International Affairs, April, 1992, Lawrence Freedman, review of Into the Quagmire, p. 359; April, 1996, Lawrence Freedman, review of In Retrospect, p. 394.

Journal of Military History, April, 1996, Lorenzo M. Crowell, review of Into the Quagmire, p. 339.

Journal of Peace Research, November, 1995, Ole Berthelsen, review of In Retrospect, p. 497.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Pandora's Keepers, p. 668.

MBR Bookwatch, October, 2005, Diane C. Donovan, review of Pandora's Keepers.

New York Times, April 13, 1995, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Books of the Times; McNamara Concedes: ‘We Were Wrong,’" review of In Retrospect; March 31, 1996, Laurel Graeber, "New & Noteworthy Paperbacks," review of In Retrospect.

Political Science Quarterly, spring, 1996, Roger Hilsman, review of In Retrospect, p. 151.

Publishers Weekly, September 28, 1990, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Into the Quagmire, p. 90; April 21, 2003, review of Pandora's Keepers, p. 47.

Tikkun, July-August, 1995, Peter Dale Scott, review of In Retrospect, p. 67.

Washington Post, October 29, 2003, Nelson Hernandez, "Scholar's Tenure Pulled for Plagiarism," p. B06.

Washington Times, June 1, 2003, Jeremy Bernstein, "Nine Men and a Bomb," review of Pandora's Keepers.

Wilson Quarterly, summer, 1995, review of In Retrospect, p. 89.


Hachette Book Group USA Web site, (March 28, 2007), biography of Brian VanDeMark.

About this article

VanDeMark, Brian 1960-

Updated About content Print Article